Learning as Organizing Principle

1 Sep

A favorite hypothesis of mine: learning is the only organizing principle we need for human activity.

Our workplaces (in my opinion) still generally operate on the model of the factory: hierarchical organizations designed to do concrete things efficiently and repeatedly.  That our purpose is to produce. Witness the collective fascination with the org chart as a way to visualize the purpose, relations, and meaning of an organization, and the equal fascination with output.  I suspect that, increasingly, we won’t be needed to do concrete things repeatedly, but to do abstract things once.  We won’t be valued on the large number of low-quality things we do but on the high quality of the few things we do.  We’ll be faced with strange problems that nobody knows yet how to solve and we will have to learn, in groups, how to solve them.   We won’t know the problems in advance, but we know we’ll have to learn to solve them, so learning will be the thing we organize ourselves to do.

My hunch is that we would be better off if we built our organizations on pedagogical principles–brought people together in ways governed by what we know about how people learn together–and then got out of the way.  People learning together (I propose) will produce more as a by-product of their learning than we produce now with the product as the goal and the learning as the happy accident.

So what principles am I talking about?  One example might be the recent work of Daniel Wilson of Project Zero on team learning in challenging environments and learning behaviors in the workplace.

The great promise of this idea is that (in my opinion) learning is wonderfully rewarding.  Fun.  Enlivening.  Engaging.  Community-building.  Morale-boosting.  An organization that does it well should be a great place to be.  People might pay to work there!


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